ANTHRAX: AMONG THE LIVING (1987)
1) Among The Living; 2) Caught In A Mosh; 3) I Am The Law; 4) Efilnikufesin; 5) A Skeleton In The Closet; 6) Indians; 7) One World; 8) A.D.I./Horror Of It All; 9) Imitation Of Life.
Some random guy on some random website called this «happy metal», and said he'd rather stick to blacker stuff. I don't know; I think it would take an absolute musical genius to make such an over-the-top genre as thrash metal truly «black». Do Slayer really scare you? Does Megadeth make you want to hide under the bed? Perhaps Metallica does have a way of crawling under one's skin in an uncomfortable way — but they are also the least «generic thrash» of all such bands; surely not coincidentally.
So Among The Living finds Anthrax moving further away from «unintentionally funny» (= awful) to «intentionally funny» (= awesome). Letting the band members' infatuation with Stephen King and comic books burst through, they now lend their steel riffs to songs about Judge Dredd and Randall Flagg. Certainly a novel approach, but one that lets them find their own face in the tiny confines of the thrash cell block: a grotesque marriage of speed metal and pop culture. And it does not even matter much that far from everyone in the world is acquainted with these characters: particular names come and go, but the popcorn stays forever.
Of course, if a song like 'I Am The Law' were written in all seriousness... but surely it is intended to be half-admiration, half-irony, a brief role game to make life more exciting. It is more difficult to say just how serious they are when writing about more earthly, socially conscious issues ('Indians', about Indians; 'One World', about fighting for peace) — the lyrics are far more trite, and it is not easy to spread good morals together with headbanging riffs; as we see, some people even get offended with the «happy metal» vibe.
But the band is at its most intelligent and snappy not when singing about comic book heroes or about politics, but when they turn on their own audiences, as in the classic 'Caught In A Mosh', which I freely consider one of the greatest thrash anthems ever written. The main riff is one of the few Anthrax riffs that are truly unforgettable — all beastly power and speed — and the song offers the audience a chance to let off major steam while at the same time (provided you pay attention to the lyrics) understanding how ridiculous they look when doing it: "Cold sweat, my fists are clenching, stomp, stomp, stomp, the idiot convention". Does the song approve of the practice of moshing or does it condemn it? This band is clever enough to avoid a straight answer.
Overall, the riffs they come up with seem to have slightly increased in both complexity and memorability, but not enough to make them more discussable than their lyrical subjects or basic attitude. The important point is that they have learned how to imbue these riffs with — for lack of a more suitable expression — somewhat intellectual content, earning the thrash genre extra points in respectability. If you are the moshing sort, you will adore all fifty minutes of this; if you are not, you are still welcome to recognize the craft and care and even humour that went into it, like I certainly do, even though my own headbanging instincts were only seriously triggered once (as the awesome bass riff of 'Caught In A Mosh' creeps in and blows you away). Thumbs up from the brain; the album's «classic» status is understood and deserved.